Covid News: Live Updates on the Virus, Vaccines and Mandates
While the Delta variant-driven surge is receding in much of the United States, it rages on in less-vaccinated states like North Dakota, to the point where the state’s governor and health professionals have asked people to avoid risky activities that could add to the burden on hospitals.
The plea to maximize capacity for the crush of Covid patient came last week from Gov. Doug Burgum and doctors and administrators from some of North Dakota’s largest hospitals. They asked the public to drive defensively, skip dangerous activities that could lead to injuries, regularly visiting primary care physicians and make sure all their vaccinations were up to date.
“The pressure on hospitals and clinics in both our urban and rural areas is reaching critical levels, and we all need to do our part to avoid hospitalization and prevent further strain on these facilities and their staff as we work through this incredibly challenging time,” said Mr. Burgum, a Republican.
The problem has been compounded by health care worker shortages and a wave of patients who can no longer delay care for other conditions, said Dr. Joshua C. Ranum, the vice president of the North Dakota Medical Association.
North Dakota’s caseload — 81 cases per 100,000 residents — trails only those of Alaska and Montana, according to a New York Times database, a 25 percent increase over the past two weeks. And Covid-related hospitalizations are up more than a fifth in the past two weeks.
Nationally, the United States is averaging below 100,000 new daily cases for the first time since Aug. 4. The average of 97,933 cases is down 20 percent from two weeks ago. New daily deaths are down 14 percent, to an average of 1,770.
Covid caseloads remain high in North Dakota and Western states like Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, where vaccination rates are relatively low. Some areas have had to ration care and send patients to distant hospitals for treatment.
Just 45 percent of the North Dakota’s population is fully inoculated, according to federal data, compared with 56 percent nationally.
Mr. Burgum has asked North Dakotans to get vaccinated, but he has resisted mandating vaccines and threatened legal action after President Biden announced vaccination requirements last month that Mr. Biden said would affect 100 million workers.
In North Dakota, Dr. Ranum said most hospitals were being forced to get by with the staff members they had, sometimes training them to work in different parts of the hospital to fill gaps. Reinforcements from elsewhere are rare because demand for traveling nurses and other health workers is so high, he said.
Dr. Michael LeBeau, president of Sanford Health Bismarck, North Dakota’s second-largest hospital, said the facility’s staff was depleted and exhausted as it reckoned with overdue care amid the surge.
“We spent the better part of a year where we had a hard time keeping up with standard health maintenance, yearly physicals, the stuff that prevents hospitalization,” Dr. LeBeau said.
Just a day after President Biden visited Chicago to plead for vaccine mandates, saying they were the only way to defeat the coronavirus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday said public workers could opt out of the city’s mandate until the end of the year by getting regularly tested.
The mayor announced the mandate for Chicago workers in August. But the proposal was met with immediate pushback from employees and labor groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Chicago Federation of Labor.
Now, workers who are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, including those who have sought medical or religious exemptions, must get tested twice a week, separated by three to four days, at their own time and expense, the mayor’s office said.
Employees who fail to report their vaccination status by the Oct. 15 deadline will be placed on unpaid leave.
The test-out option will remain in place until Dec. 31, after which employees must be fully vaccinated unless they have received a medical or religious exemption. It was unclear what the consequences will be for those who refuse to comply.
Cities and states around the country have introduced vaccine mandates for their workers, and some have been met with legal challenges.
After being delayed by the courts, a vaccine mandate for educators and staff in New York City public schools was cleared to proceed after a ruling by a federal appeals panel last week. Though it faced opposition, the mandate pushed tens of thousands of Department of Education employees to get their shots.
Municipal workers in Seattle and in Los Angeles are required to be fully inoculated against the virus by next week, though unlike Chicago’s policy, there is no test-out option. Both mandates allow for religious or medical accommodations.
Chicago had been negotiating with labor unions since the August announcement.
The political battle in Florida over masks in schools escalated this week, as the state Board of Education voted to authorize sanctions on eight local school districts for not following instructions from Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration that make masks optional.
The eight districts, whose boards all voted to require masks in school buildings, could face cutbacks equal to their school board members’ salaries unless, according to the Tampa Bay Times, they show within 48 hours that they are in compliance with state orders. The districts are in Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach Counties.
The measure was approved unanimously during a conference call meeting on Thursday by the State Board of Education, all of whose members are appointees by Republican governors. The vote came after superintendents from the eight districts argued their mask policies had been effective at curbing the spread of the virus.
After the vote, one of the superintendents, Alberto M. Carvalho of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, noted on Twitter there had been “no major outbreaks” in his district and that student cases had been declining after a spike in early September.
“We disagree with today’s State Board of Education’s recommendation and wholeheartedly believe that we are in compliance with law, reason, and science,” he said in a Twitter post.
But the state board said that the county school boards had “willingly and knowingly violated the rights of students and parents by denying them the option to make personal and private health care and educational decisions for their children.”
Masks in schools have become the center of a fiercely partisan debate in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states whose Republican governors oppose mask mandates as an infringement on personal liberties. In late July, Governor DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate, signed an executive order directing state officials to ensure parents have the power to decide whether children wear masks in school.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all students, teachers and employees wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status. Most masks offer far more protection to others than to the person wearing them, dispersing the exhaled aerosols that carry the coronavirus in an infected person. So individual masking undermines the protection the masks offer.
President Biden, a Democrat, has openly criticized the Republican governors blocking local mask mandates, and the federal Department of Education has started investigating whether such policies in five states violate the civil rights of disabled students.
Lawsuits have also been filed in a number of states, including Florida, challenging bans on mask mandates. In late August, a federal judge said that Florida’s state constitution allowed school districts to impose strict mask mandates on students, handing Mr. DeSantis a defeat. The state asked an appellate court to reverse the ruling, which has been stayed temporarily pending a final decision.
On Thursday, the Florida school board maintained that a “parents’ bill of rights” enacted by state lawmakers earlier this year gave parents the sole right to decide if their children should wear masks. The board’s statement said that the law requires districts and schools to “protect parents’ right to make health care decisions such as masking of their children in relation to Covid-19.”
“Every school board member and every school superintendent has a duty to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” the chairman of the state board, Tom Grady, said in the statement.
Singapore is adding the United States and seven other countries to its list of places where two-way travel for fully vaccinated people can occur without needing to quarantine, officials announced on Saturday, as the Southeast Asian country begins to cautiously reopen.
“We are charting a course for the new normal, toward living with Covid-19,” S. Iswaran, the transportation minister for Singapore, said in a post on Facebook. “This is how we must move forward to protect both our lives and livelihoods, to learn to live with the virus, and to journey toward a Covid-resilient nation.”
In addition to the United States, the new countries in this arrangement are Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain, according to Mr. Iswaran. Singapore already announced similar arrangements with South Korea, Brunei and Germany.
Under the plan, known as Vaccinated Travel Lanes, fully vaccinated people traveling between Singapore and those countries will subject only to PCR tests for the coronavirus instead of quarantining, according to the transportation ministry. Those travelers will also have no restrictions on their purpose of travel and will not be required to have a controlled itinerary or sponsorship, the ministry said.
The expanded travel plan will start on Tuesday, according to the ministry.
Email messages to the ministry seeking comment were not immediately returned.
The Vaccinated Travel Lanes are one of the biggest reopening steps being taken by Singapore, a major economic and transportation hub, after early successes in thwarting the coronavirus and then a sharp setback in controlling its spread.
Singapore was widely considered a success story in its initial handling of the pandemic, closing its borders, testing and tracing aggressively, and ordering vaccines early.
Singapore has now fully inoculated 83 percent of its population, and a top politician told the public in August that an 80 percent vaccination rate was the criterion for a phased reopening.
But in September, with cases doubling every eight to 10 days, the government reinstated restrictions on gatherings. The United States said its citizens should reconsider travel to the country, emergency departments in several Singapore hospitals were crowded, and people were once again told to work from home.
The country’s experience has become a sobering case study for other nations pursuing reopening strategies without having had to deal with large outbreaks in the pandemic. For Singapore residents, there were nagging questions about what it would take to reopen if vaccines were not enough.
For many, the repeated tweaks to the restrictions have taken a toll. The number of suicides in 2020 was the highest since 2012, a trend that some mental health experts have attributed to the pandemic.
With the Nets star Kyrie Irving potentially set to lose more than $380,000 for missing a preseason game Friday night, the N.B.A. players’ association pushed back on the league’s plan to dock the pay of unvaccinated players for any games they miss this season because of local coronavirus ordinances.
Irving, a union vice president, has not spoken publicly about his vaccination status, instead asking for privacy. New York requires most teens and adults to have at least one vaccination shot to enter facilities such as sports arenas, and Irving has not practiced with the Nets in Brooklyn. The team listed him as “ineligible to play” in its injury report before Friday’s preseason home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center.
For Irving, the $380,000 represents about 1 percent of his base pay for the 2021-22 season. A disagreement between the league and the players’ union over lost pay hinges on a section of the collective bargaining agreement that allows the league to discipline players who, “without proper and reasonable cause or excuse,” fail to fulfill their contractual obligations.
Mike Bass, a league spokesman, said last week that “any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for games that he misses.”
The union has rejected instituting a leaguewide vaccine mandate.
Irving’s indefinite absence from home games — and from practices — has created a predicament for the Nets, a team with championship aspirations that must weigh whether having him around only half the time is worth it. His teammates have said they support him.
Steve Nash, the Nets’ coach, said the team would not move its practices to a location outside of New York to accommodate Irving. The Nets, who have not said publicly whether Irving is vaccinated, held their training camp in San Diego.
“No, this is our home,” Nash said. “This is where we’re going to practice, and we have almost a whole group. So that’s a positive, and we’re just working at getting better every day and focusing on the things we can control.”
Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks play, require all employees and guests 12 and older to show proof of having received at least one vaccine dose, to comply with a city mandate, unless they have a religious or medical exemption. San Francisco has a similar requirement that applies to Chase Center, where the Golden State Warriors play. The mandates in both cities mean that the players from the Knicks, Nets and Golden State cannot play in their teams’ 41 home games without being vaccinated.
In Case You Missed It
Across the United States, many families with young children have been anxiously awaiting a vaccine for those under 12 years old.
This week, they moved one step closer, as Pfizer and BioNTech asked federal regulators to authorize emergency use of their shot, which has been proven to be safe and highly effective for young children, for those aged 5 to 11.
If approved, the vaccine could help protect some 28 million more people in the United States. Federal regulators received another major request this week from Johnson & Johnson as the company sought authorization for a booster shot for adults. It was the last of the three Covid vaccine manufacturers whose shots are authorized for U.S. use to make such a request.
Pfizer’s announcement came on Thursday, the same day that President Biden made an appeal to private employers to adopt vaccine mandates, underscoring the administration’s efforts to reach the tens of millions of Americans who remain unvaccinated. In his speech, Mr. Biden said that mandates were the only way to defeat the virus.
Here’s what else happened this week:
A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can nearly triple the chances of a rare heart condition in young men, though the risk remained extremely low. Experts have thus far said that the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the risk of getting the condition, called myocarditis.
After months of decline, the number of nursing home deaths rose sharply from July to August as the Delta variant spread across the country, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found.
The Covax vaccine program backed by the United Nations will fail to meet its target for delivering doses to Latin America and the Caribbean this year, in part because wealthy countries that pay more for the shots are buying up most of the supply, according to the World Health Organization.
The United States will spend $1 billion to quadruple the availability of at-home rapid coronavirus tests by the end of the year, White House officials said. Two hundred million rapid tests are soon expected to be available to Americans each month.